La grande finesse n’est pas celle qui s’aperçoi


In a recent post, I wrote about how much we enjoyed a trip to the Yale University Art Museum. One of the works that caught my eye was a stunningly simple print by Henri Matisse entitled ‘Nadia au profil aigu’ (Nadia with Sharp Profile). In a few deft strokes, Matisse captured the essentials and the personality of Nadia in this 1948 drawing.

In a 1988 New York Times article entitled “The Spare, Sure Lines of Matisse,” John Russell described Matisse’s drawings, saying “Drawn with a sureness that speaks for a lifetime of long practice every day of the year, the unshaded and weightless line seems barely to touch the white of the paper as it goes on its way. Nothing much is done, by the standards of conventional etching, and yet everything is done. Volumes float before our eyes. Anatomies are all present and complete, no matter how much of the page is left white.” Specifically referring to this print, Russell said, ”’Nadia with Sharp Profile’ shows exactly how … he could make black lines gather the light unto themselves and fairly fling it back at us.” Clearly, this drawing caught Russell’s eye as much as it caught mine.

The French saying “La grande finesse n’est pas celle qui s’aperçoi” (lah grand finess neh pah sell key sap-air-dwah) means “The perfection of art, is to conceal art.” I think that sums up Matisse’s drawings perfectly. Just a few lines. How simple. How simply marvelous.


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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